Behind The Benefit Bashing Headlines Lies A Nasty Ideology That Is Not Confined To The Daily Mail

Originally posted on the void:

mustard-tree-protest A protest was held outside Machester homelessness charity Mustard Tree yesterday over their involvement with workfare. (h/t @gajagwyn)

There was a time when policies to send sick or disabled claimants on workfare, or sanction the benefits of lone parents, would have been met with horror by the electorate.  There have always been grumblings about the social security system, as with any other institution, but unemployment was once seen as a personal tragedy caused by wider economic failings, not a personal failing caused by laziness or the wrong attitude.

This change in public opinion did not happen by accident.  Just like immigration can be used to whip up and divide sections of the population, so can the social security system.  The implanting of the idea that somebody is getting something you aren’t, even if this isn’t really true, is an age old technique.  The grass on the other side of the…

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22/03/15 The One Hundred

Jeremy Clarkson allegedly does something to his producer for apparently not providing him with a nourishing tasty meal after a hard day’s Top Gearing.
The powers that be at the BBC shut down Top Gear PLC to allow time for an investigation to take place.
Possibly for an investigation to be seen to take place. 
Cue sad picture of Jezza C about the place.
An online campaign explodes into action and, before we know it, the Stig, an unknown Carlos Fandango dressed in white bondage gear, delivers 1 million votes in a Sherman Tank to the BBC in London.
One million votes. 
For something that, at best, is… 
You can fill out the rest. 
The other day, a friend of mine started a campaign to stop the institutional prejudice in the NHS that discriminates against people with mental health problems.
A system that guarantees a waiting time of 18 weeks between diagnosis and the start of treatment for people with physical maladies…
But one that has no such guarantee for people with mental health problems. 
In fact a system that has NO guarantee for people with mental maladies. 
Imagine if you were the head honcho of an NHS trust.
Where would you put your limited funds? 
Would you focus on the 18 week promise?
Or would you say to yourself,
‘Hold on a second, I think people with mental health issues aren’t getting a fair slice of the cake here…’
I’ll cut to the chase. Because of this weird administrative blip, there are people with severe mental health problems  who are receiving no treatment. 
Who, in desperation often go to any open door bit of the NHS – Accident and Emergency – their GP – Minor Injuries – who are then labelled 
‘Attention Seeking’ 
and/ or 
for their pains. 
As a result, my friend started a campaign to raise awareness of this weird mismatch. 
Mental ill health is the biggest killer of men under 35 in the UK.
Since the beginning of austerity, over 6 thousand people a year take their own lives.
75 percent of whom are men.
That’s 1 thousand more every year since the cutbacks began.
This is not a political issue. It is purely a matter of fairness. 
The campaign that my friend started demands parity of esteem – equality – between mental and physical health services. 
That’s all.
At the beginning of the campaign, my friend told me she was aiming for 100 signatures.
I thought she was being incredibly conservative (small ‘c’ there) with her target. 
I thought folk would be quick to sign up and in no time we’d have a godzillion signatures…
However, to date we’ve had 74 folk signing up…
And a complaint of spamming. 
Not what I’d expected. 
What has that Clarkson fellow got that we haven’t? 
I can play the William Tell Overture (the theme to the Lone Ranger) on my teeth with a pen. 
If the #wordsdontcount campaign reaches the dizzy heights of 100, I will make a video demonstrating that most unusual of talents. 
Just sign up here
It’ll take a moment of your time, and it’ll mean a lot. 
Have you signed? 
I don’t think we’ll beat the lovely Jeremy, but…go on, I’d love to have a shot driving a tank. 
Walk a mile
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19/03/15 It Could be you…or, why institutional discrimination is as awful as it sounds. 

Imagine going to see your GP.

Imagine after a few visits they diagnose you with…insert any physical illness you can think of here…
Imagine your doctor then says, 
‘Sorry, the NHS has a guarantee to start treatment, 18 weeks after diagnosis, for every illness and malady except for the one you’ve got…’
Quite rightfully you ask,
‘What the fuck?’
S/he may talk at length about pressure on services…priorities…efficiencies…
What they actually mean is, because there is no guarantee of how long you’ll wait, there’s no guarantee of anything – any treatment at all.
The folk in charge of services allocate their budgets in line with legislation. 
Welcome to the world of mental ill health. 
If the law points to folk having an 18 week waiting time – the budgets will reflect that. 
If the law says, ‘Do what the fuck you like, but if they’re really loopy, incarcerate them,’ then that’s how those in power at the NHS will react accordingly.
Parity of esteem. That’s all that’s required. Put us on a level playing field, and that will be a great start. 
But surely this division was made because, well, you know, mental health problems aren’t that serious. Surely the powers that be wanted the limited resources in the NHS to be given to those areas that need it most…you know, cancer ‘n’ shit…
It might be a surprise to hear that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 35 in the UK. 
Prior to austerity measures being put in place by this government, there were just over 5 thousand suicides a year in the UK. 
Since services have been cut back in the past 5 years,  disproportionately in the case of mental health, that figure is currently a sickening 6 thousand a year – that’s an extra thousand people a year dying – 75 percent of whom are men. 
‘Something must be done!’ declared Norman Lamb, Minister of State for health – primarily, the guy in charge of mental health services in the UK.
That’s right, in June, 2013, the very man who should be initiating action in this area, told a gathering at the Royal College of Psychiatrists,
Achieving parity of esteem between physical and mental health has long been a personal priority of mine, and something which I take every opportunity to promote in government. We must ensure that this is more than just rhetoric.’
And yet, here we all are. 
In the past 5 years, rhetoric is all we’ve had.
Oh, that and cuts…deep, swingeing cuts. 
Sure, England has been given a promise of an extra £1.5 billion for mental health services…that from the same people who sold us parity of esteem…
This doesn’t do away with the artificial division between physical and mental health services – although it’s a welcome injection into decimated services – it exacerbates the situation.
Added to that, it’s not unlike being mugged in the street, where your assailant comes back, gives you a couple of quid, and says, 
‘Here mate, get yourself a coffee!’
I’ve joined a campaign that’s aiming to change this. 
You can find it on Twitter here 
On Thunderclap here
Or get involved via the campaign website here
We can make a difference
Walk a mile
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16/03/15 Cleggers plays pop…or Nick Clegg offers the earth…again

I’m sure I’m not the only person who remembers the statement from our deputy Prime Minister shortly after he’d got his feet under his desk in the cabinet.
A statement that came months after he’d given the country hope – a hope that someone who spoke for us – someone who was one of us – now stalked the corridors of power on behalf of us. 
A statement that came shortly after he realised that the road ahead was going to be harder than he’d originally thought.
A statement that left me cold. 

‘You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.’

Mario Cuomo

Which, to my mind means, you can promise any old bollocks when you’re not in power and then blame the system for your inability to make those promises come true.

Do you stop making promises? 

Or do you work harder to realise them?

Is it your goal to simply to stay in power? Or do you believe that only by staying in power will your ethical and philosophical hopes and dreams come true? 

Sure, a few of your principles will take a hit…but you’ve got a career…a family to feed…

So, what are we to believe when, tomorrow, we’ll hear that the government will fulfill the promises made by Mr Clegg across a variety of media platforms…

A promise that is as artful as it is potentially deceitful. 

‘You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.’

By making this promise now, just a couple of months short of the election, he’s doing both. 

The promise?

Lordy, I nearly forgot. 

He has promised that

‘Mental health services in England will receive £1.25bn in next week’s Budget,’

According to the BBC, our man of the people, for the people said,
Media caption“It’s an institutionalised form of cruelty the way we allow vulnerable children with mental health problems to…have to fend for themselves”
These sound like the words of someone who’s had nothing to do with governing the country for the past 5 years.
The words of someone who wasn’t the leader of the party to whom Norman Lamb, Minister of State at the department of health, aka the bloke responsible for mental health provision – or lack thereof, pledges allegiance. 
Sadly though, he WAS in power. 
He was there, making a noise about the lack of parity between mental health services and physical health services. He declared righteous indignation at the disparity where folk with physical illnesses are guaranteed a waiting time of 18 weeks between diagnosis and the start of treatment, and where folk with mental health problems have no such promise. 
Today there are people who are being diagnosed with severe mental health problems but are offered NO treatment because of this unbalanced system. 
He was part of a government that squeezed the poor and vulnerable in the vice of austerity until, each year, a thousand more of us took our own lives through the loss of hope, the loss of a meaningful future.
During the term of this government, thirty thousand of our fellow citizens have taken their own lives.
Have we invaded that particular country? 
During these years, where operation Yewtree and the Saville Enquiry, along with other public investigations into  sexual abuse, mental health services have been systematically decimated across the UK. 
Thousands of mental health nurse jobs have vanished while hundreds of millions of pounds have been cut from health and local authority mental health budgets.
We live in a weird world where the punishment of of offenders is given more time and valuable resources than the support of the abused. 
Nowhere is this obscene incongruence seen more than in our own justice system. 
Since 1993, the prison population in England and Wales has almost doubled, breaking through the almost inconceivable figure of 86 thousand.
70 percent of whom have one or more diagnosed mental health problems. 
Almost a quarter of all adult prisoners were in some manner of care as children. 
Almost 40 percent of all prisoners under 21 had been in care as children. 
The price of a year’s incarceration has dropped from around £40 thousand a year to £36 thousand – a drop that means that these vulnerable – yes, vulnerable people aren’t given valuable time to talk to a professional. 
Look here for more on that 
Even with the new economy prisons, this is a cost of £1.5 billion each and every year. 

Money that could be used to care is being used to punish instead. 
So, tomorrow, when Mr Osbourne tells us about this promised land for people with mental health problems – one that we can almost touch, just over the horizon of the general election – take some time to think.
Is he campaigning in poetry or…? 
How have we fared under this particular flavour of prose?
Yes, you’re right, it’s time for some balance…
Looking at the labour party’s policies on mental health…

Well, if this is an example of them campaigning in poetry, we’re all fucked.
Yes, I’m angry. No, I don’t have an answer.
Unless mental ill health is treated with the respect it deserves and is prioritised accordingly, things won’t change in any meaningful way. 
We need public will and desire to make a real difference. 
And that, ultimately, is what it boils down to.
If you want things to change, it starts with you. 
Walk a mile
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05/03/15 Dirty Scrounging Bastards, or, isn’t it amazing what you can get for 18 pence a week? 

I was listening to the Jeremy Vine show on BBC radio 2 today (it’s ok, I’m allowed, I’m 50 tomorrow), when I was touched by the the succinct and tender comments by one of his guests.

As she enthusiastically stated that she would never vote conservative, she gave a brief shopping list of the groups of people she would happily have her taxes spent on…it was the usual suspects, but it didn’t include the ‘parasites’, her word, who chose to have more than 3 children whilst on benefits. 
She was quite vitriolic – by which I mean she was ranting like a ranty thing.
This all came off the back of the government’ proposal to stop child benefit for any children after the third in a family, and that this would save the UK PLC £300 Million
They brought in someone who disagreed with her – and their conversation went kind of, 
‘Yeah, well you’re stupid…’
‘Yeah but, I’m never going to agree with you ever because…’
‘Yeah, but you smell..’
and so on. 
The interesting thing was, nobody seemed to be remotely interested in the facts. 
It turns out that 9 out of 10 families with 3 or more children, on our fair island, have at least 1 working parent. 
That leaves 110 thousand families with no working parents who have 3 or more children. Which, I’m pretty sure, is the group the powers that be would like us to think about when saving money. Did I mention hardworking taxpayers? 
The cost of child benefit for a family of three comes out at £2498.60 per year. 
That works out at approximately £274,846,000 coming out of the taxpayers coffers. 

Bloody Hell! I hear you cry, that’s more than a quarter of a billion…

Do you feel yourself joining the Daily Mail cohorts yet?


If you consider that we now have nearly 30 million folk in work…let’s think how much these leeching bastards are bleeding out of each and every one of those hard working Brits every year…

So, quarter of a billion, divvied up between 30 million folk…that works out at just under £9.17.
A week?
A month?
Let’s cut to the chase. These parasites are costing each and every hard working Brit £9.17 every year.
That’s, er…18 pence a week. 
I had a brief look around the interweb to find out what you can buy for 18 pence a week.
Fuck all…give or take. 
But that’s not the money we’ll be saving. 
If each of these 110 thousand families had an extra child, that would cost you a further 6 pence a week. 
That’s £3.12 a year.
I’ll leave you to decide what you’d mindlessly blow this delicious nest egg on…
Another thing to think of is – THE UNEMPLOYED isn’t a stationary group. It’s fluid. It ebbs and flows. 
The mean average length of unemployment is 32 weeks, the median is 13 weeks. I guess what I’m saying here is most of these people work.
So, if we target this group of folk claiming for that extra child, the government claims we’ll save £300 million.
This is where my maths turns to shit.
I can’t for the life of me consolidate these figures. At one stage I’d worked out that these scroungers, who are also hard working Brits, some of whom are on workfare – that is, doing a job that used to be low paid, for the paltry sum of their benefits, would have to produce an extra 11 children each to save us all that massive figure.
Although I’ll accept that I’ve gone beyond the boundaries of my mathematical talents there. 
I think something similar could be levelled at those folk paid by the dept of hard sums on this matter. 
Why are folk so ready to reach for their pitchforks and torches here?
When did you last get so het up about £3.12…6 pence a week if you prefer?
What is in the mind of the spin doctors when they grandly state they’ll be reducing benefits for folk who breed like rabbits? 
Do we need more enemies? 
More folk to despise and deride? 
What is this piece of sleight of hand covering up? What is our attention being drawn away from?
Of course, you could be really angry about that £3.12.
Bastards, eh?
Walk a mile

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03/03/15 Mentally ill man ate my hamster…

It’s been a while, hasn’t it, since we’ve heard tales of dangerous lunatics wandering our streets? 

Well, in truth it hasn’t, but let’s just go with that optimistic thought, shall we?
The other day a tsunami of media outlets, from Fox to the BBC, told us that…

‘Depression linked to violent crime, study finds’

The Telegraph declares…

‘Depression to blame for 32,000 violent crimes a year, says Oxford University’

Others, thankfully, are a little more circumspect

‘Why linking depression to violent crime could be a red herring’

There are, give or take, a zillion types of (clinical – a condition diagnosed by some manner of health professional) depression.
So what folk, with the condition, should we be fleeing from? 
I’ve got to say, I’m a little frustrated that I haven’t been able to get my hands on the original article – so I’m relying on the sensationalist reportage of the media, who really love this sort of thing, as a basis for my rapier like reply. 
To be fair, some, like the BBC, managed to print the caveat, stated clearly by the author, Prof Seena Fazel, that 
‘One important finding was that the vast majority of depressed persons were not convicted of violent crimes…’

But I imagine that’ll be lost on many people who’ve already been dragged in by those crowd pulling headlines. 

Ok, let’s imagine that you’re someone with a mental health problem – it could be depression – it could be something else. Let’s look at this violence that the media has located purely in you – that’s solely down to your condition – this violence that has nothing to do with anything other than your mental malady…
It doesn’t take much thought or effort to find other factors, life pressures, that may influence your behaviour…

If we look at hate crimes against people with mental health problems, it doesn’t take much of a search to find papers like this –

‘It has long been known that people with mental health problems experience high levels of crime and harassment.  Surveys by mental health charity MIND reported that 50% of respondents had experienced harassment in the workplace or community (Read & Baker, 1996) and 71% harassment, physical or sexual violence, theft or mistreatment (Mind, 2007)Sixty percent of people who use community mental health services have been victimised (Kelly & McKenna, 1997) and 41% harassedcompared to 15% in the general population control group  (Berzins et al, 2003)’
There are other, more institutional, forms of prejudice against people with mental health problems…
For example, people in this group are far more likely to have their benefits sanctioned – that is, having them stopped for anything between a week and 3 years.  There are emergency payments – but many folk aren’t informed about these…
You look for a job, a stressful process at the best of times. Do you disclose (even that word implies something seedy, to be hidden) that you have a mental malady? 
You know there are laws in place to protect you –
 but, at the same time, you know employers can make up a variety of politically correct reasons as to why they didn’t employ you. 
What about those gaps in your CV? What do you tell them…? 
What if you get the job and then tell them about your malady at a later stage? 
Does this give them grounds to dismiss you? 
What about the systems that are there to support you and nurture you with your mental health problem?
For many, the first point of contact with any services is via the police – many of these experiences are fabulous. I’m happy to report that 3 out of 3 of my mental health involvements with our boys in blue have been great. They’ve been understanding, caring and empathetic.
But what of the near 3000 people with mental health problems who have died in police custody since the turn of the millennium? 
Apparently with no prosecutions
Do you think you might consider resisting arrest? Do you think this might be recorded as a violence against the police statistic? 
What about the cuts in mental health services?  The same services that were looking pretty brittle before austerity cleaved great disproportionate chunks out of them.
People with mental health problems find themselves in desperate situations – no services and nowhere to go. 
Mental health practitioners, experiencing intolerable stress because of cuts and/ or the long term sickness of their colleagues, find themselves at times, blaming their punters for this desperation. Labels like ‘Attention Seeking’ and ‘Codependence’ abound. 
People with mental health problems find themselves being redefined away from services – ‘You’ve only got a touch of schizophrenia…’ 
Many go to A & E as a last resort – some have self harmed – some suicidal – some are told by some inadequately trained staff ‘We’ve got patients with real problems,’ or something very similar. 
It may be down to attitudes similar to this that 30 thousand people with a mental health problem die prematurely and needlessly every year from preventable physical maladies.
So, next time you read a headline that screams 

‘Depression linked to violent crime, study finds’


What would you do in this situation? 

How would this version of the world effect you? 

No money.

No services.

Hate crimes. 

Limited access to work.

Discrimination – both visible and invisible.

I’m sure there’s more…

I wonder if Prof Seena Fazel factored in all of these and more extraneous variables when considering his apparent conclusions? 
So, if anyone has access to the original paper…you know where to forward it. 
Walk a mile
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24/02/15 Walkamile Rebooted Update…

This summer….Boom!

In a town near you…Boom!

Look, this really isn’t going to work unless you do the voice…you know, the THIS SUMMER…voice…

That’s better…

Right, you’ll remember, earlier this year I threw out the idea, to you walkamilers, of having an event prior to my return to the sacred ramble this summer.

As well as my own startling brilliance, you fine folk came up with a bunch of great ideas that, with some more thought and a bit of tweaking, could take the whole walkamile gig a bit further.

Take a look at these, and let me know what you think…and no, commenting on anything doesn’t oblige you into action.

Walkamile Rebooted – The Event

To reiterate – my lovely friend, Donna, is soon to be the proud owner of a community centre in the town of my birth, Corby. Together we’ve come up with the idea to have some manner of relaunch event to help plan for what’s next for Walk a Mile in my Shoes.

I see it as a gathering of unlikeminded people – folk from all walks of life – some involved with mental health in whatever guise that may be – and some not. My overarching aim for this unlikely bunch is to explore how we can combat the stigma, often born out of ignorance, of mental health.

From this wonderfully creative process, I’d like to use some of the ideas generated to work out what’s next for our little endeavour.

The idea here…wankword alert…is to use the practicality of this task as a third object for the participants to work together.

I’ll clarify with a bit of an example here…I once worked as a nursing assistant in a hospital for folk with mental maladies. I worked with a guy who wasn’t terribly keen on sitting in a room talking to me for hours on end…so I came up with a cunning plan.

He liked to play football – I liked to play football…he didn’t get much of an opportunity for this in institutional care – so, for a couple of hours a day, he and I would dazzle each other with our soccer skills (to be honest, he was significantly more dazzling than me) while we talked about his mental health, plans for his discharge from hospital and his hopes and dreams.

This worked a treat – he was able to talk whilst that wasn’t the main focus, or didn’t seem to be the main focus of our time together.

In amongst all this talking, Donna has ideas for music, poetry and other forms of artistic expression to grease the wheels of creativity.

Walkamile the Walk

Overall, I’m trying out the thought of making Walkamile into a charity, to provide a more structured infrastructure
to aid in the endeavour.

I’ll continue with the walk, launching forth from Porthmadog in Wales, talking to people, spreading the word, challenging mental health stigma one conversation at a time…whilst blagging hospitality from the good folk of the UK as I go.

There’s scope to develop this by coordinating walks with individual folk or groups with the intention to hear and share their stories.

There’s also the idea to get folk to walk a mile anywhere in the UK, and to tell us about it…why they’re walking, with photos, films and/ or stories about what got them to where they are today.

This may or may not involve some manner of fundraising for the ramble.

Walkamile The Podcast

This could be another way to spread the word. My thoughts are, currently, that we, yes, we, you and me, could share the responsibility for presenting and interviewing folk from all areas of society…producing a mental health themed podcast once a week (might be ambitious) or monthly, distributing it via iTunes and YouTube etc.

Walkamile The Blog

The aim is for this to continue, with the possibility of asking for voluntary contributions, again to oil the wheels of our industry.

The Great Walkamile Shoeswap

The idea here is for folk – yes, you – to send your shoes and the story of you and your footwear on video or photo or written word, to a central point from where you can expect to be the recipient of something similar donated by someone else. You can wear those shoes for a day, week, for however long you want to, and then share your thoughts about the other person’s tale.

The Walkamile Shoe Auction

Yes, this is blatant fundraising.

Are you, or do you know anyone in a public position – celebrity or otherwise, someone who is willing to part with some meaningful footwear to have it auctioned for funds for walkamile?

In a similar fashion to the Shoeswap, I’d like there to be a back story attached to anything donated.

Walkamile Talks – to universities/ schools/ workplaces/ any manner of gathering of folk…

This, like all of the above, doesn’t have to be me – we’re all in this together…

For this to work well, I think, some manner of coordination is required. In my ideal, Pollyanna, world, some manner of central person could ensure the right people turn up at the right place at the right time.

I’d be happy to do this for free – however – realistically, in a similar ideal world, a minimum of costs would need to be covered. However, that, for me anyway, could be done in that typical, walkamiley stylie of winging it.

Walkamile the movie

Last, and by no means least, the film of the ramble would ideally have some funding chucked at it – for the final bits of production and distribution and the like.

So, really there isn’t much to do…

This is my fantasy ideal – it could be more – it could be less – or something in between.

Thanks to everyone for their ideas and help with this.

What do you want to do?


Walk a mile


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